Reflections of Day 1
Education actors gathered at the Center Point Hotel in Bangkok to talk about the Right to Education and the Abidjan Principles. Masato Abe, Economic Affairs Officer at UN ESCAP, formally welcomed the participants to the two-day regional consultation. Batjargal Batkhuyag, ASPBAE Executive Council member representing East Asia, gave the opening remarks, while Gauri Pradhan, one of the experts involved in drafting the Abidjan Principles, gave the inspirational note, stressing the importance of strengthening the right to quality public education.
The presentation of the regional context clearly noted the low public spending for education, way below the global benchmark; the increasing commercialisation of education in most countries across the region; and the widening inequity and segregation in education, threatening the right to education. All these underscore the need to monitor, regulate, and end commercialised education. It is against this backdrop that the Abidjan Principles become relevant as reference and tool for engaging states and private actors in education.
The resource persons involved in the drafting the Principles guided the participants in navigating through the document, presenting the history, the rationale, the process, and its formal adoption by a pool of human rights and education experts in February 2019. The participants that included education coalition representatives from 14 countries, academics, human rights defenders ,and UN personnel actively engaged in the discussions and debates. They identified key issues that need further clarification, and noted contentious provisions that need further study and substantiation. The participants appreciated the discussions on the right to public education and the obligation of states to provide, ensure, and regulate education as culled from international human rights law. Several questions were also raised during the breakout sessions. Among them were the classification of private educational institutions, the basis of and eligibilities for private actors in education to receive public funds, and on compliance and enforcement of the Principles.
The first day of the consultation provided a good start to level off the understanding of the Abidjan Principles, and to surface issues and questions related to important sections and provisions of the document. It provided momentum for education advocates and campaigners to prepare them for planning the engagement related to financing and privatisation of education in their respective context.
Reflections of Day 2
As a continuation of the first day’s discussions, the opening of the second day of the ‘Regional Consultation on Building National Capacity on the Right to Education and the Abidjan Principles’, was held on 5 October 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand. May Cinco, Board Member of E-Net Philippines, who energised participants with a short game and recap of the first day. She echoed the message of Gauri Pradhan, former Commissioner of the Nepali Human Rights Commission, who said, “Education cannot be divided into public and private education. It is a public good.”
Guided by the resource persons, Delphine Dorsi, Ashina Mtsumi, and Gauri Pradhan, participants went into their respective breakout groups to resume their discussions and clarification of the important provisions that can be used in the advocacy for the right to education for all. Most of the issues raised were based on different country contexts. However, several recurring themes emerged such as the influence of private actors on governments, the so-called “conflict of interest” found in politicians and authority figures who should be upholding the right to education for all yet own private educational institutions, the use of public funds to finance and to support private education, and the possible threat that private actors can use the Abidjan Principles in their argument to receive public funds to provide education.
The last session of the regional consultation put a spotlight on the next steps to take for the years 2020 to 2021. Some of the actions put forth by participants from Southeast Asia included disseminating the Abidjan Principles to coalition members and to schools, engaging with the Ministry of Education and the National Parliament, using different forms of media to campaign for the right to education, and to raise awareness on the Abidjan Principles.
Participants from South Asia plan to use the Principles as a reference in their lobbying for increased public budget for education, stricter enforcement of regulations of private educational institutions and the rising privatisation of education. Several coalitions, however, noted that their respective constitutions and laws lay emphasis on public education and make no reference to the provision of public funds to support private schools.
In Central and East Asia, the coalitions plan to consult various actors, including other civil society groups, academic organisations, and human rights institutions to help disseminate the Abidjan Principles. Participants from Mongolia, South Korea, and Kyrgyzstan plan to organise forums and meetings, and to use the Abidjan Principles in leveraging political parties in upcoming elections for a clear-cut stand against commercialised education.
The resource persons and ASPBAE’s Cecilia “Thea” Soriano identified and outlined key events and platforms to raise the advocacy position on the privatisation of education, the regulation of private actors’ involvement in education, and the Abidjan Principles.
In closing, ASPBAE’s Rene Raya extended his sincere gratitude and appreciation to the participants from the national education coalitions, staff, and resource persons. The participants and resource persons all agreed that the regional consultation enriched their understanding of international law on the right to education and the applicable provisions on private sector involvement in education in the context of the Asia Pacific region.